Allaho has dominated the Ryanair Chase for two successive years and the Willie Mullins-trained inmate will try and create his own little bit of Cheltenham Festival history by completing a hat-trick this time around.
As the countdown for the 2023 Cheltenham Festival intensifies, we are taking a look at some of the horses expected to play major roles in the Cotswolds.
|Where||Cheltenham Festival, Cheltenham Racecourse, Gloucestershire|
|When||2.50, Thursday 16th March, 2023|
|How to watch||ITV Racing, Racing TV & bet365 Sports Live Streaming|
|Odds||Allaho 7/4, Blue Lord 5/1, Shishkin 8/1, Fakir D'oudairies, Conflated 12/1, Pic D'orhy 16/1, Envoi Allen 25/1|
The Ryanair Chase was added to the Cheltenham Festival programme in 2005 and Allaho, 7/4, will be aiming to become the first horse to win the contest three times on 16th March.
Albertas Run, in 2010 & 2011 for Jonjo O'Neill and AP McCoy, is the only horse previously to have won multiple renewals of the race.
The race has grown in stature as the years roll on, aided by wins for the ever-popular trio of Cue Card (2013), Un De Sceaux (2017) and Frodon (2019), as well as Uxizandre in 2015 providing McCoy with his final Cheltenham Festival winner and, a year later, a sublime and stylish performance from Vautour.
That was Willie Mullins' first win in the race and the Festival's all-time leading trainer has now claimed Ryanair Chase glory five times in the seven years. Can anything prevent Allaho from continuing that domination?
If Allaho is to maintain his stranglehold on the race, it will be done differently this season.
In each of his three seasons as a chaser, the Cheveley Park Stud-owned star has reappeared in the month of December. This time around, that didn't happen and connections revealed just before Christmas that he'd been forced to have six weeks off and was 'doing some light work' at that time.
How will that affect his preparations for Cheltenham in March? Well, one thing to note, he has been beaten in two of those seasonal comebacks over fences, so the lack of a prep run is sure to be a concern for his supporters.
In 2020/21 the Ryanair was his fourth start, while last season he had two runs en route to the Cotswolds. His forceful front-running style of racing is demanding - both on the day and over time.
He has just turned nine years old and there has to be some level of questioning in regards to how hard on himself Allaho has been in his career to date.
Of course, if there is a trainer operating right now who can get him spot-on for a big first-time-out assignment, then surely it is Mullins.
The aforementioned Un De Sceaux had a similar bruising style of racing and, in the end, it probably told on him, as he won this race in 2017 but was unable to replicate that in this final two attempts.
It's no secret that the Mullins battalion makes it hard to figure out how the Irishman will split his arsenal come Cheltenham.
Allaho has this race firmly in his sights, but that lack of a prep run leaves some uncertainty.
Another Mullins contender could be 5/1 Blue Lord, winner over this sort of trip at Clonmel on comeback before he pocketed a 2m1f Leopardstown Grade 1 at Christmas.
Given the trainer has Energumene for the Queen Mother Champion Chase, would it be more likely Blue Lord takes on Allaho in this race? That seems a distinct possibility.
Another possible rival is 8/1 Shishkin, with Nicky Henderson looking to go up in trip now that his erstwhile star has faltered at two miles.
The make-up of the Ryanair Chase is hard to predict, but the likes of Fakir D'oudairies, Conflated, Hitman and Eldorado Allen are all possible rivals and what does seem certain is that Allaho will have to work harder than ever if he's to become the first three-time Ryanair Chase winner.